My question to the accomplished psychologist and research scientist following her presentation to a large crowd at Stanford University – a presentation highlighting the link between mental and physical health – seemed simple enough.
“There’s plenty of evidence showing the impact that our thoughts can have on our brain,” I said. “But is there any evidence that these thoughts actually originate in the brain? And if not, then where do these thoughts come from?”
Her answer: “We don’t know.”
The rather brief and somewhat matter-of-fact response elicited a fair amount of chuckles from the audience. I guess most of us expected a more detailed explanation. But as the laughter died down, I considered the significance of what was just said.
Could it be that this woman’s honest and humble answer had inadvertently engaged the audience in a new line of medical inquiry, perhaps hastening a radically new view – even a new era – of medicine?
When it comes to our thoughts – the consciousness, the brain, the mind, whatever you want to call it – there’s a lot that we already know. For instance, we know that there’s a link between what we think and the way our bodies act. You get embarrassed, your face turns red; you become frightened, your heart beats faster.
We’re also learning that certain types of thoughts such as gratitude, forgiveness and compassion can be particularly beneficial to our health. Negative thoughts tend to have the opposite effect.
What remains to be discovered, however, is where all these thoughts begin.
One of the most provocative suggestions comes from Dr. Larry Dossey, author of the best-selling “Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing” (HarperOne, 1999) and the forthcoming “One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters” (Hay House). Dossey believes that “consciousness is not confined to one’s individual body,” but that there’s a singular, “nonlocal mind” governing one and all.
This presents a bit of a dilemma, particularly for those who consider this mind to be divine. If an ever-present, all-powerful God is the source of such health-inducing thoughts as gratitude and compassion, does this mean that He or She is also the source of those thoughts that produce mental and physical suffering, both for ourselves and others? Is God both good and evil?
So far, the best answer I’ve heard predates Dossey by at least a couple of thousand years.
“‘I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ saith the Lord, ‘thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end,’” it says in the Bible (Jeremiah 29:11).
In other words, our health doesn’t depend so much on our differing views of the Divine, but on our willingness to adopt as our own His or Her view of us – a view that we’re assured includes a decidedly secure future.
Assuming for the moment that this is true, it would mean that any evil thoughts that happen to cross our mental radar screens are nothing more than an opportunity to get to know the Divine a little better – and for our lives to become a lot healthier.
Chances are this isn’t the answer that most of us are ready to accept. At the very least, however, it’s one we should all consider – and certainly one that could usher in an entirely new and exciting era of medicine.
Eric Nelson serves as media and legislative spokesman for Christian Science in Northern California. The Christian Science of Church in Los Altos is located at 401 University Ave., and the public Reading Room at 60 Main St. For more information, visit www.cschurchlosaltos.com.